January 24, 2005

Thief Deadly Shadows – Review

Welcome to a different pace of game. In a world where the trend is increasingly toward blowing away mutants or zombies with a shotgun, it’s nice once in a while to be able to sit back, creep around…and steal things. This is where Thief: Deadly Shadows comes in. In the third instalment of this series, you once again pick up the role of Garrett – kleptomaniac extraordinaire.

For once in my increasingly jaded gaming career I came to this game with no preconceptions. Having never touched a Thief title before I didn’t care that the developers are now Ion Storm rather than the sadly defunct Looking Glass Studios, or whether the game continues in the traditions of old. So what of the game itself?

An absorbing plot sees you helping the Keepers – a group Garrett used to belong to, and one of the three factions in the city where he lives. Armed with an array of stealth-aiding tools ranging from the faithful blackjack to unlikely water and moss arrows, Garrett fulfils his magpie-like obsession for shiny objects while carrying out his main quest objectives – usually the liberation of a particular item important to the storyline. During the course of the game Garrett meets the other two main factions in the town – the Pagans (a group of magic-using, strange-talking tree-huggers) and the mechanist religion of the Hammerites. As well as these there is also the City Watch to steer clear of, and many weird and not-so-wonderful creatures, as the twists and turns of the story take you to almost every location in the city. The quests themselves each provide thought-provoking challenges, and are set in a range of rich environments, with the pick of the bunch being the Shalebridge Cradle – a haunted insane asylum who’s eerie atmosphere and uncomfortably long duration make for one of the most gripping gaming experiences I’ve had for a long time.
Outside of the main quests Garrett has freedom to roam through all the areas of the city; mugging, pick-pocketing and lock-picking as he goes. But beware – the more crimes committed in an area, the more Watchmen there will be next time you enter it. These sections of the game also provide a chance to discover sub-quests and hidden loot, via notes or overheard conversations, and to improve your standing with the Hammerites and the Pagans, which is a good idea and makes life a lot easier towards the end of the game.

While it is definitely a refreshing change from most of the current gaming experiences, Thief: Deadly Shadows still suffers imperfections in similar ways. Anyone who has played Ion Storm’s other recent offering – Deus Ex: Invisible War – will get an immediate sinking feeling when they realise that Thief uses the same engine. This means that the physics are a little on the dodgy side, for example objects bumping into each other for slightly too long, and player motion is rather jerky and suffers from lag. The first of these problems can be avoided by using the third person view, which also makes the game much easier, but the latter, especially when you are relying on quick actions to avoid detection, can be extremely frustrating. Also the pathing is inconsistent, to the extent that NPCs occasionally attempt to run into doors and walls for about 5 minutes, and AI is blinkered and extremely paranoid, with guards coming to investigate a small noise you made two rooms away, despite it being almost inaudible above the clunking of their own boots. Of course, even the paranoid can be correct occasionally… Finally, Thief suffers the ignominy of being a console port, causing world areas to be small and load screens frequent, and the lack of a cursor in either first or third person view occasionally makes selecting objects, which you do by looking at them, rather tricky.

However none of this can obscure the simple pleasures of exploring the city, breaking and entering, and walking off with another’s valuables. With the odd blackjack to the back of the head for good measure. Now…should I book myself into therapy now, or do you want to phone the police?


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